So, you're going to be one of them, huh? Well, it was just a matter of time. We're warning you, once you get a cell phone, there's no turning back. Fine, we'll help you find the perfect cellular phone, but we're going to be rolling our eyes with the rest of the people you encounter on the street and at stoplights. And if you use it in a movie or restaurant, we are legally obliged to hurt you.

Wait one sec… we got a call… OK, we're back.


What makes cell phones different from land-based lines is that they transmit by radio waves, and therefore rely on these big damn antennae that are strewn about the U.S. Cellular, by the way, refers to the interconnection of these radio fields around those antennae. As you move from field to field, it is like moving from cell to cell in one big organism. Naturally, there are more in the populated areas, like, you know, cities.

These phones operate on three different systems. Don't worry; we're not gonna explain how or why. We're only gonna give you the bottom line – the advantages and disadvantages of each one. To be precise, you shouldn't start out by choosing an "actual phone." (So we lied in the heading.) You really can't choose your phone until you complete Step 2. and choose a service plan. This is because you may need to buy a phone from the company that it providing you service; they may offer you a free phone, etc. For now, you are just selecting a phone type.

The three types of phones

Analog phones. Analog is the original cell phone type. What does that mean? On the plus side, the phones themselves are a bit less expensive than the alternatives, and the nation is already equipped for these phones, so you can use them in 95% of the country. Yes, even in Podunk, North Dakota. Analog is for you big travelers. On the negative side, the sound quality is not the sharpest, and the minute rates tend to be higher than the alternative. The times, they are a changin'. We recommend that you forget about analog phones and go with a digital or PCS.

Digital phones. These have better signals, and cheaper call rates. Batteries tend to last longer as well (because the phones require less power). The problem is that coverage tends to cut out (or be patchy) once you are not in those aforementioned populated areas; digital-equipped antennae aren't covering the country the way analog-equipped ones are. But they will be soon. In any case, if you are planning to use your cell phone while traveling cross-country, digital phones may give you a problem for this reason.

PCS phones. PCS stands for Personal Communications Service. For all practical purposes, it is effectively the same as digital. You may have heard the term used in connection with Sprint (e.g., Sprint PCS).

Additional features to consider

Dual mode phones. These are really cool phones that can automatically switch between digital and analog. When you are in range of digital antennae, they go with that, and as you move out, they automatically utilize the analog lines. Good for those cross-country types we just spoke of. Funky. Useful.

Battery Life. When you choose a phone, you should consider how long it can last on standby (turned on, but not in use), and how much talk time you have before recharging. By the way, many believe it is a good idea to invest in a second battery, so you can always have one charging, and a fresh one in the phone at all times. Remember to ask about the strength of the signals between phones as you shop around. Some phones don't work while inside buildings. If you're planning to use the cell phone as your all-utility phone (as many people are increasingly opting), you'll want a phone with a strong signal.

Weight. The lighter it is, the more pleasant to carry around (and lose).

Size. Frequent readers of SYW are probably expecting a "does" or "does not matter" joke. We're taking the fifth. Just think about it.

Color. What can we say? This is a personal choice. Phones come in many colors from chrome to emerald to basic black. If this is an important consideration to you, you have warped priorities, but hey, we said we'd provide you with all the information, so there you have it.

To find a selection of phones from various major brands that fits your needs and price range, answer this six question custom survey at